Honorary member Colin Johnson looks back at how ASDC began
Published: 11 Oct 2023
As Linda Conlon, one of ASDC’s longest serving trustees, steps down from office, it’s worth a quick look back as well as forwards. The roots of ASDC can be traced to the Nuffield Foundation’s ‘Interactive Science and Technology Project’ of 1987, established as a resource for the new breed of hands-on science centres. From the early 1990s, there were sporadic meetings for the science centre managers, generally hosted at the Science Museum. Towards the end of this decade the Wellcome Trust, through its involvement with the Millennium Commission investments, recognised the importance of bringing together the existing and emerging centres. They funded a development project to consider the aims and constitution of a co-ordinating body. The outcome was Ecsite-UK, a membership organisation for centres engaged in ‘bringing science to the public’ (and vice-versa).
More than 70 institutions joined straight away, and Ecsite-UK held its first board meeting in April 2001, pictured below. One of those first board members was Linda Conlon, from the Centre for Life. Fast forward by 22 years, and now stepping down from the trustee board of ASDC is that same person – after completing 12 years of service with the two bodies, three of them as Chair. During this time Linda not only served on the board of Ecsite itself, but in the USA she also chaired the Association of Science-Technology Centers – only the second person from outside North America ever to have held this position.
Technically, Ecsite-UK was an ‘unincorporated body’, and Linda was one of those addressing this issue when it was reformed into the Association for Science & Discovery Centres in 2009. Her clear-sighted strategic view of events and structures made her an invaluable colleague – never one to hold the floor at meetings, nor yet to hold back on matters that needed to be considered. As she now points out, “Science centres the world over are more alike than different. We are all driven by an ambition to make science more engaging and accessible, irrespective of location, size and funding. Learning from each other and sharing experiences through ASDC is invaluable, as well as great fun!”
When pushed to ask what’s still needed, Linda adds “...I am disappointed and frustrated that UK science centres are still not eligible to apply for funding that is available to other cultural organisations. It remains a mystery to me why this should be the case. It’s an odd attitude to have when science and technology shapes the world we live in and drives the prosperity of the country.”
Those who take a full part in ASDC understand the benefits of learning from the best that others are doing, and at the same time are willing to share their own achievements and challenges. We all grow stronger through this kind of collaboration, and by making sure that colleagues within our centres have the opportunity to participate in that process. Linda has played a leading role in developing her own staff and growing the sector in this way, and I know that her presence on the Board will be much missed. Happily, she has agreed to remain on the Strategic Committee, as a key contributor to ASDC’s future.
Hon Member ASDC, Chair Ecsite-UK 2001-3
“We have been so very lucky to have such experience and expertise guiding and supporting ASDC governance. We waved the fondest farewell from the Board to both Linda, and Scot who stepped down after 10 years.” Shaaron Leverment, ASDC Chief Executive